Straight Talking was first published in England in 1997, when naïve American readers hadn’t yet met Bridget Jones and still thought Chick Lit was a type of candy-coated gum. Viewed as one of the first entries in that genre or as Jane Green’s debut, the novel is an interesting artifact. Viewed on its own merits, it’s not worth the money.
The novel’s plot travels the same path we’ve become all too familiar with in the four years since Bridget Jones crossed the Atlantic: British single woman in her late 20’s or early 30’s searches for Mr. Right but keeps finding Mr. Wrong. When she’s not goofing off at her job in the entertainment field, she’s dishing about her problems with her best friends. In this case, our heroine is Tasha, producer for a morning television talk show. She’s still recovering from the breakup three years ago with Simon, the two-timing bastard who was also the love of her life. Tasha wonders what is wrong with her and why the men she sleeps with (usually on the first date) don’t stick around for the long haul. Helping her cope are her three best friends: nurturing Mel, wild woman Andy and glamorous Emma. They also bemoan the lack of good men or, in Mel and Emma’s cases, the commitment-phobia of the men they do have.
Halfway through the novel, Tasha is presented with a choice of two men: one is sweet, generous and supportive, while the other is dangerous and sexy. Tasha grew up with a father who lied about his numerous extramarital affairs, so which man do you think she gravitates towards? And what type of kick in the head will it take for her to realize the error of her ways?
Green was one of the first of the Chick Lit authors to use the chatty first-person narrative that treats the reader as the heroine’s newest best friend. You may think Tasha is funny, or you may see her as totally self-centered, but the air of cozy intimacy she inspires is hard to ignore. She even stops the narrative at various points to have imaginary conversations with the reader. Tasha is also fond of expounding on her theories about relationships, which are bitchy, funny and sometimes pretty close to the truth.
Wouldn’t you agree that deep down every woman goes for (Mr. Wrong) because she hopes she’ll be the one to change him? Oh come on, you must. She goes in with eyes wide open, fully aware of what he is and why it won’t work out, and even though he’s told her it’s just a fling, he’s not ready for a relationship, she’ll hang on and hang on because she prays that one morning he’ll wake up and see her sleeping beside him in her lovely silk Janet Reger special and he’ll be hit by a coup de foudre, a flash of lightning. My God, he’ll think, I’m in love with her.
God we are so pathetic.
Straight Talking suffers in comparison to the author’s other readily available work. Later Green novels, such as Jemima J, explored issues of body image and dieting. Recent release Babyville looked at the impact of parenthood, pregnancy and infertility on women and their relationships. Straight Talking, however, is much ado about nothing - another self-centered, mildly promiscuous, self-destructive female who works through her insecurities just in time to prevent Mr. Right from walking out the door.
If you’re a devoted Jane Green fan, you might want to read Straight Talking to observe the genesis of her career. But if you want Brit Chick Lit with more depth, try one of Green’s later releases, or other genre authors such as Marian Keyes and Anna Maxted